Translation challenges in football — is there a simple solution?
We talked with Roman Askhabadze about the importance of knowing the languages, machine translation and the challenges of email correspondence with people from different countries. A Moscow State Linguistic University graduate, Roman rose from an interpreter to a General Director of FC Spartak Moscow, Russia and later FC Banants, Yerevan, Armenia.
What languages do you speak?
My native language is Russian and I am also fluent in Spanish, English, and Portuguese.
Your career spanned from an interpreter to a General Director of a major Russia’s Football club. Of all the people, you are probably the best person to know all the aspects of the translation business because you have been on both sides. What difficulties did you face?
The main difficulties were in the communication with various international partners and institutions. For instance, there was always a problem with email correspondence with FIFA and other international institutions, partners, agents, and football clubs from abroad. It got even worse when the language of communication was less common to football, Chinese for example.
How did you handle such situations?
Once we were negotiating with a Chinese football club regarding the transfer of one of the players. The negotiation process involved dozens of emails and phone calls. Since very few people in that Chinese club spoke any English it really slowed down the overall process. Eventually, we decided to seek help from a professional translation agency. We had to translate several documents to complete the transfer. The translation process took a very long time and we were on the verge of missing the transfer window. We managed to close the deal at the last minute. This was stressful.
When I just started out as Deputy Director at Spartak, I would always hire young professionals who spoke at least one language (English) but often we would still face difficulties with email correspondence in other languages. For example, I had to take over the communication with Spain, Portugal, and Latin America. In my case, I knew the languages. But I could only imagine how painful would it be for someone who did not speak them and had to answer dozens of emails in multiple languages. There is a clear communication problem especially when both parties do not speak English well.
So, what about online translation agencies? They could help with the translation of emails and documents.
I think we have done it only once in 5-6 years.
Even if it was not always the most efficient approach, we would try to do all the translation in-house. Because there is a psychological barrier for any manager or a person to hand over important documents to someone else. Also, it takes a lot of time, to send documents, agree on the price, approve the price, and then to wait for it to come back. Most of our translation needs were super urgent and hardly any agency would be able to deliver on our deadlines.
What about Google Translate which now claims to be nearly identical to human translation?
You know, if machine translation has even a 1% error (and it is far from that), as a professional, I would still not be willing to use it. If we are talking about respect and professional partner relations I strongly feel that using machine translation is disrespectful to your partner or a client.
What advice would you give to the professionals who have international contacts and deal with different languages?
I can give 2 pieces of advice: either learn the languages yourself or find the service which will help you with your professional business correspondence. The key is that it should be fast, transparent, and confidential.